Is it possible to get drunk, high or both by just smelling or looking at the substances that cause it? Was it necessary to consume said substances to feel that pleasure run through your veins?
I swirl the last few drops of the brown liquid around and around, the red cup the customary utensil to be used for the occasion.
“Relax Joyce, the beer is not going to kill you.”
I jump, the beer rising up from the cup and falling back inside with a slight splash. I turn around to see Lillian, and I can feel my stomach clenching inside, my shoulders straightening, and the vomit dangerously close to its destination.
She tilts her head at me, the smudged eyeliner around her eyes raising a question in my mind that I keep to myself, not risking the possibility of her volunteering the information by herself. Tendrils of her jet-black hair escape her high bun, framing her oval face and making my hands itch with the urge to curl them around my fingers.
No, the beer was not going to kill me. But she just might.
I turn back around and focus on picking up the paper plates and the red cups, all the while aware of her gaze on me, my every movement careful, trying not to drop anything and embarrass myself in front of her.
I consider myself a reasonably smart person.
But around Lillian, I couldn’t be more stupid.
It is her birthday today. I am not sure if she knows that I wished her earlier, and I don’t think I have the courage to now, not when it is all quiet and we are all alone. I may end up doing something I’ll regret.
I wished her when she had opened the door to let me and a few others in for her party. I had screamed it over the loud music emanating from the speakers, and she had looked over and smiled that damned crooked smile of hers. I don’t know if she knew it was me though, it could have been anyone.
I am just anyone to her now.
Does she remember how we used to be? How we walked on the sidewalk as wobbling four-year-old’s, holding each other’s tiny hands for fear of falling? How we played hide and seek in her huge house, hiding in the dumbwaiter with bated breath? Does she remember the sleepovers, the lemon sodas and the camping trips? Or am I just one of the many people who did all of that with her?
The plastic bag in my hand gets slightly heavier with each cup and plate I place in it. Cup. Holding hands. Plate. High pitched laughter. Cup. Lying on the grass and looking at the stars. Plate. Cup. Plate. Love. Love. Love.
I dip a cloth in a bucket and wipe the table, all the beer and food crumbs, the tang of the disinfectant curling into my nose and making me wince.
On hearing sniffling from behind me, I focus more on the task I have to do and clamp my mouth shut. I will not ask her what has happened. I will not ask her if she is okay. Because she isn’t. By asking her, I’ll only confirm an obvious fact and make it worse.
“Eddie, he – um – dumped me today. On my birthday. Can you believe him?” she says, blowing her nose into a tissue.
My hand stops wiping, unsure of how to respond to the information she so readily volunteered without any prompt at all from my side.
“I – um – I’m sorry to hear that,” I say, hoping my voice sounds genuine.
I am not sorry. Not at all.
“No, you’re not,” she says, and my heart leaps in my chest.
Did I say that out loud?
I turn around, and she gives me a slight smile.
“People were sorry to see me with that creep in the first place. But feeling sorry that he left me, no, no. I am sure that everyone was sorry it lasted this long in the first place,” she explains.
I shrug in agreement, not denying it. I didn’t even know the guy that well, but I hated him. She deserved better. Was better necessarily me? Or was I getting ahead of myself?
“Maybe the only people you need are the ones who have been there all along,” I say.
“You’re probably right,” she replies, brooding.
I tie up the plastic bag and go over to Lillian, placing it next to her feet with the other bags. When I get up to take the wet cloth, her hand clasps mine tightly. A jolt goes through my body, making me light-headed and bringing back the bile from the beer. My own drugs are now in contact with me, and my body aches for more.
“Joyce, can I ask you something? And be honest when you answer me,” she says.
I nod, not trusting my mouth to say what I need it to. Not when all the thoughts in my head have been replaced by the fact her hand is in mine.
“Why did you stop talking to me? Did I get too boring for you when we grew older?” she asks, and a bitter laugh escapes my lips.
Only if she knew.
As much as it emotionally hurts me, I pull my hand out of her grasp and take the wet cloth, wringing it out in the bucket next to me.
“Trust me, that’s not the reason why I stopped talking to you,” I reply, a forceful smile pulling at my lips while flashes run through my mind.
“Then what is it?” she asks.
“You really have no idea, do you?” I say, and she shakes her head, looking genuinely confused.
I clear my throat.
“I – um – well – you discovered boys,” I say, going for the safe way out, instead of telling her the whole truth.
“You began going after boys, and I started feeling left out,” I finish, though the truth still stands on the tip of my tongue, waiting to burst out.
“But if you were feeling left out, we could have gone after boys together,” she says.
This is it.
“I didn’t want to. I wasn’t and never will be interested in boys, not like that anyway.”
“So, what, you were interested in g –” she cuts off mid-sentence, realization dawning her features.
“I was, and still am,” I say, pulling at the cloth in my hands.
A silent moment.
“You could have told me. I would have helped you out, maybe even set you up with a few friends of mine,” she says, and I scoff.
“That wouldn’t have helped. That would have just reminded me again and again that I could not have who I really wanted, who I was really in love with,” I say, biting my lip.
I look at her, a sad smile pulling at my lips.
“I think you know,” I say, and look away, not wanting to see her reaction.
I hang the cloth on the edge of the bucket and take my purse from the counter.
“I should really get going, my mom will be worried,” I say, pulling my coat from the rack and putting on my shoes.
I stop in my tracks.
“Look at me.”
I slightly shake my head, my back towards her. She walks towards me and gently places her hands on my shoulders, turning me around.
Sneaking a peek at her, her expression is set to one of deep thought. With a nod, she seems to come to a decision. She rests her hands on my cheeks, and my face sets on fire. I jerk back.
“What are you doing?” I yell, feeling my neck flush.
Lillian’s hands rest on my cheeks again.
“What any best friend would have done,” she says, leaning forward.
I close my eyes as her lips meet mine, my hands snaking around her body as I desperately pull her closer. She deepens the kiss, pushing her fingers into my hair and holding me tighter.
I know that this is her apology for not understanding. This is my apology for not telling her earlier. She doesn’t love me the way I love her, she is just doing this to fulfill my fantasy. I also know that when the kiss is over, I will walk home, the imprint of her body still on mine, my fingers lingering on my lips. The rest of my life will be as it is supposed to be, as both me and Lillian find the people that we are meant to spend our lives with.
But this kiss will forever remain in our hearts, in our memories. It will be treasured and remembered with fond smiles. For it was a kiss of a broken friendship, of forbidden and unrequited love, of two girls who loved each other in different ways.